Spying Case Against Robin Raphel Fizzles; AG Lynch’s “Houston, We Have a Problem” Moment

Posted: 2:05 am EDT
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We blogged about the Robin Raphel case in September (see The Murky Robin Raphel Case 10 Months On, Remains Murky … Why?.

In November 2014, we also blogged this: Robin Raphel, Presumption of Innocence and Tin Can Phones for Pak Officials.

On October 10, the NYTimes reported that officials apparently now say that the spying investigation has all but fizzled. This leaves the Justice Department to decide whether to prosecute Ms. Raphel for the far less serious charge of keeping classified information in her home.

The fallout from the investigation has in the meantime seriously damaged Ms. Raphel’s reputation, built over decades in some of the world’s most volatile countries.

If the Justice Department declines to file spying charges, as several officials said they expected, it will be the latest example of American law enforcement agencies bringing an espionage investigation into the public eye, only to see it dissipate under further scrutiny. Last month, the Justice Department dropped charges against a Temple University physicist who had been accused of sharing sensitive information with China. In May, prosecutors dropped all charges against a government hydrologist who had been under investigation for espionage.
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Some American investigators remain suspicious of Ms. Raphel and are loath to abandon the case entirely. Even if the government cannot mount a case for outright spying, they are pushing for a felony charge related to the classified information in her home.

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In the case of Xiaoxing Xi, the Temple university professor and head of the school’s physics department, federal authorities handling the case were said to have misunderstood key parts of the science behind the professor’s work.  Mr. Xi’s lawyer said, “We found what appeared to be some fundamental mistakes and misunderstandings about the science and technology involved here.” The federal officials handling the Xi case did not know the science but went ahead and indicted him anyway.

Are we going to hear soon that the federal officials handling the Raphel case also made some fundamental mistakes and misunderstanding of the diplomatic tradecraft?  At least two of these officials leaked the probe to the news media even if no charges were filed against Ambassador Raphel.

This  was not a harmless leak. She lost her security clearance, and her job at the State Department without ever being charged of any crime. And in the court of social media, just the news that she is reportedly the subject of a spying investigation is enough to get her attacked and pilloried for treason. Perhaps, the most disturbing part in the report is that the authorities appear to have no case against her for spying, so now they’re considering slapping her with a felony charge under the Espionage Act.

Now, why would they do that?

Perhaps to save face and never having to admit that federal authorities made a mistake or lack an understanding of international statecraft? They could say —  see, we got something out of a year’s worth of investigation, so it was not completely useless.

Or perhaps because American investigators still viewed Ambassador Raphel’s relationships with deep suspicion?

Because, obviously, “deep suspicion” is now the bar for an espionage charge?

We should note that the hydrologist, Sherry Chen was cleared of spying charges but was notified in September that she will be fired by the National Weather Service for many of the same reasons the USG originally prosecuted her. Xiaoxing Xi of Temple University had been charged with “four counts of wire fraud in the case involving the development of a pocket heater for magnesium diboride thin films.” The USG asked to dismiss the case without prejudice, meaning it could be revived, according to philly.com.

Unlike the Chen and Xi cases, Raphel was never charged and was not afforded the right to defend herself in the court of law.  What we have in one case may have been a misunderstanding, a second case, may well have been a mistake, but a third case is certainly, a trend.

This is AG Loretta Lynch’s  “Houston, we have a problem” moment.

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US Embassy Denmark: A Wedding in Copenhagen

Posted: 1:52 am EDT
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Congratulations and best wishes to U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Rufus Gifford and Dr. Stephen DeVincent on their wedding at Copenhagen City Hall on October 10. A collection of tweets below with some photos:

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US Embassy Libya: Ambassador Deborah Jones Moves On, Ambassador Peter Bodde Waits

Posted: 1:33 am EDT
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In July, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ambassador Peter William Bodde to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Tripoli.

Ambassador Peter William Bodde, a career member of the Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, currently serves as U.S. Ambassador to Nepal, a position he has held since 2012.  Ambassador Bodde served as Assistant Chief of Mission for Assistance Transition at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq from 2010 to 2012 and as U.S. Ambassador to Malawi from 2008 to 2010.  He served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan from 2006 to 2008.  From 2002 to 2006, Ambassador Bodde was Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Frankfurt, Germany.  Prior to this, he served as Director of the State Department’s Office of Management Policy from 2000 to 2002 and as Administrative Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India from 1997 to 2000.  Ambassador Bodde served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal from 1994 to 1997.  His earlier assignments include postings in Denmark, Bulgaria, and Guyana.  Ambassador Bodde received a B.A. from the University of Maryland.

Bodde, Peter W. – Libya – August 2015

Ambassador Bodde’s nomination was referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 8, 2015. It looks like the senate panel has yet to hold a confirmation hearing on his nomination.

The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli was evacuated in 2011 during civil unrest to remove then-President Muammar al-Qadhafi. In September 11, 2012, Islamic militants attacked the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi killing four Americans.  In early 2013, U.S. personnel returned to Libya.  The  embassy was moved closer to the Tripoli International Airport. In July 2014, two major militias fought for control of Tripoli International Airport. As the fighting drew closer to Embassy Tripoli, the security environment for conducting embassy operations deteriorated. On July 26, 2014, more than 100 U.S. personnel were evacuated by land to Tunisia (see State Dept Suspends All Embassy Operations in Libya, Relocates Staff Under Armed Escorts).

According to a May 2015 State/OIG report, the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (State/NEA) and Embassy Tripoli were working on an arrangement to allow the Embassy Tripoli External Office located at the U.S. Embassy in Malta to transfer operations to Embassy Tunis. This would include the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and as many as 9 American staff members and 13 locally employed staff members.

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